First, let’s start with the good news; I don’t have cancer, and asthma probably won’t kill me anytime soon.
I know that’s an odd intro, but it’s apt for this post. Mom passed away due to complications with asthma on inauguration night in 2008, which means she lived long enough to see the first Black President sworn in. She was 53. Dad died four years later of throat cancer at the age of 60. Losing both parents at such relatively young ages affected me profoundly. Of course I mourned them, but I also became somewhat fascinated by my own mortality. I began wondering how differently I would live my life if I knew I had less than twenty good years left in the tank.
My internalized responses were surprisingly Zen-like. Sure in my lifetime I’ve probably compiled more losses than wins, and granted, having not lived to my fullest potential, I’ve left countless goals, dreams, and opportunities on the table, and -- ok, fine -- I’ve said and done some incredibly stupid, shameful things worthy of being mocked until my casket drops. But somehow, either through God’s will or the idiocy of fate, I’ve managed to surround myself with a wonderful family and friends willing to put up with my wacky social-avoidance. I have a beautiful wife who adores me, kids who aren’t perfect, but are making me proud with each shaky step towards independence, and a loyal brother (who I don’t talk to nearly as much as I should) with a wonderful family of his own. Life, no matter how inglorious or insignificant in its unfolding, has been relatively kind to me. I’m good with it, and could probably go in peace.
But life plays cruel tricks on you. As you get older, you suddenly find yourself chasing ghosts. After turning 40 this year, suddenly every malformed fold of skin became a malignant tumor. Every rash is clearly flesh-eating bacteria. The tickle in your lungs or the cough that won’t go away? Tuberculosis, of course.
Asthma runs deep on Mom’s side of the family. As I mentioned, it eventually claimed Mom’s life. My brother Phil has it almost as bad, but early on, we thought that I had dodged that genetic bullet. The Navy doctors diagnosed me as asthmatic in my early twenties, but my symptoms were marginal. I could easily shrug it off with a couple puffs of albuterol and resume swabbing decks, chipping paint, playing basketball, or chasing loose women. No biggie. Two decades later, a cottonwood-carrying breeze sends me into a wheezing, gasping mess as I hunt for my misplaced meds while Bookie looks torn between helping me and kicking my ass for being irresponsible with my health. Again.
It was the fictional folded-skin of not-tumor -- and not the very real asthmatic reaction to every-fucking-thing -- that drove me to the doctor’s office to find a new primary care physician. I’d been to doctors before for random things, but I hadn’t had a PCP since my last doctor retired two years ago, assumedly to chase loose women with the sports car I helped him pay for. His recommended replacement is extremely knowledgeable, professional, and friendly. Every concern was addressed seriously and aggressively. I set ‘em up; she knocked ‘em down. I was prescribed a stronger asthmatic controller, the tumor isn’t a tumor, or even a lump, and the rash is just a rash.
Now, here’s where things go off the rails a bit.
It’s widely assumed that my former PCP retired mostly because he’s a technophobe, and he couldn’t deal with the increasing modernization of the medical industry. As I recall, stepping into his office was like stepping back into 1985, complete with that sliding credit card receipt thingy that nobody uses anymore. But I was good with it because he was a good sports medicine doctor. Semi-pro athletes and even a few former NBA players saw him.
But his departure seems to have left a techno-vacuum that has been filled with two really good doctors, newbie unconfident nurses, duct tape technology, poor interoffice communication, and sassy, borderline-rude nurse/receptionists.
I’ll begin on exam day two, after my ten hours of fasting for lab-work. Here’s the game plan: blood work, x-ray of my bad knees, and that’s it. Piece of cake, right? Now here are my tactics: I’ve always been a whiny bitch when it comes to needles, seeing my own blood, and pretty much anything medically-related. I’m no fainter. I’m more of the type who attempts to remove himself from the medical situation by squeezing his sphincter so tight that it becomes a singularity; I literally try to create my own black hole, and then will myself into disappearing into it. Since that clearly never works, I try getting out in front of my own pussification by announcing, “I’m really no good with needles, but I’ll do my best,” and then punctuating the statement with a game, “brave” smile. This tactic usually gains me 100 percent more empathy, compassion, and care.
This time? My nurse turned a shade of white I’ve only seen from first-time dads.
Let’s backtrack a bit. The first thing I noticed about my green little nurse was her tits. Yeah, I’m a pig, or whatever, but seriously; she was nothing but ginormous, globulous, heavenly mounds. It was as if two Jupiters somehow nestled into the top of her scrubs. I point this out because fixating on those two battle-buddies was the only thing that got me though the ordeal.
The second thing I noticed was that she seemed rather new and unsure of herself. It wouldn't surprise me if her medkit was still in its original shrinkwrap. Of course, I didn't make that assessment until after I all but promised her that I was going to pass out and/or projectile-vomit the moment she touched my arm.
Anyway, it was painfully clear that my tactic for compassion had eviscerated any semblance of confidence on her part. She was unsure if she wanted me to receive the needle lying down or sitting up (I chose to sit up). She was unclear on which arm to prick (after failing to find the vein on the left, she chose the right, and then failed to find the vein there either).
As I felt the sting in my right arm, I turned away and thought to myself, “Good, she got it. Now we can get this over with and I can-”
“I missed it,” confessed her breasts.
“What? You sure? It feels like you’re right on it.” Get me; Dr. Queasy, debating with Nurse Whoppers about whether or not she succeeded in injecting a fucking needle into my own vein.
“Nope. I’m so sorry.”
“No biggie. These things happen.” Get me; showing patience and compassion to someone who’s clearly pretty shaken by this situation, in which injecting a fucking needle into my skin and causing me a catastrophic amount of pain has somehow failed to achieve its desired results. My how the tables have turned.
“I can try again, or I can go get someone else to help…” her voice trailed off in a clear indication of embarrassment. It was getting pretty pathetic by this point. Now I know how women feel when they hear, “This never happens to me! But I can get it up again! I swear!”
“You’re the professional. I defer to your good judgment.” Though I tried to empower her, I could scarcely believe those words were coming out of my mouth. Heaven knows I didn’t want her jamming me up again. I watched as she tapped various parts of my arm with her index finger like she was sampling grapefruit at the market for ripeness. Eventually, she admitted her defeat without poking me a second time, and excused herself to find a veteran blood-letter.
How can I possibly describe the veteran that Nurse Sad-Tits returned with? Imagine John Madden’s gift of gab, Zap Brannagan’s love of his own voice, and Jay Leno’s “Bad Jokes! Please like me! More Bad Jokes!” bedside manner, then squeeze all that into the stereotypical body of a sassy Black lady. You know the kind of person who thinks that all of your pain and frustration can be mitigated by hitting you over the head with the same stale jokes until you force a smile just to get them to shut the fuck up and take your fucking blood? The kind of person that would make a medically squeamish person like me fight the urge to elbow her in the face, snatch the needle from her unconscious hand, and take my own fucking blood? I think that pretty much covers it.
“We’re gonna have you lay back down, but don’t worry; the chair will do the work for you! Harharharhar! Get it? OK! Now don’t tense up! It’s not that kind of party! Harharharhar! Get it? Good! We’re gonna get you outta here in time for the Flintstones! Harharharhar! Get it? Fantastic! Now flex, and if you have to move, move further into the seat! Harharhar! Get it? Alright, here we go…”
The Flintstones? Really, lady? How I resisted the urge to silence her prattling with a superman punch to the throat is beyond my limited comprehension.
As John Madden schooled Nurse Sad-Tits on how to draw blood from a man before he snaps and burns down the clinic, the details were beginning to make me queasy. I summoned all of my will and pseudo-Zen-training to focus my attention on those glorious mountains heaving in bountiful attention. They had such a calming effect on me that I was able to tune out the conversation until-
“Ow!” I shouted as the compressed pain of a billion stars pierced my left arm.
“Got it!” Nurse Leno gloated. “See what I did there? That’s a nerve cluster there, and the most sensitive place to inject a needle. That’s why I didn’t tell him I was going to do it! Harharharhar!”
I should also mention that since I was lying down, her jugular was just beyond my reach.
The rest of the blood-letting was pretty anti-climatic. Sad-Tits apologized a few more times. Sassy Black Leno cracked a few more jokes that made me want to spinning-heel-kick her in a random nerve cluster. I won’t bore you further with the details.
A few notes before I wrap this up:
- The x-ray room was so small that the technician had to wedge the bed into the doorway and then climb over it so that I had a place to stand for the knee x-ray. Had a fire broken out, I would’ve been absolutely screwed. I won’t lie; I almost said, “You know what? My knees are sore, but I can still walk. Let’s just cancel this and I’ll just walk away, grateful that I can still, you know, walk.”
- The “new” computer program that this clinic was installing? It is based on what resembled a Windows XP operating system. I’ll just let that marinate for all of my tech-savvy friends. For those not in the know: Windows XP is the oldest operating system that Microsoft still supports. In fact, Microsoft will stop supporting it next year. I won’t presume to know the industry standard of medical IT, but this seems rather problematic.
Perhaps I’m just still loopy from having a shitty stand-up comic stab me in the nerve cluster with a fucking galaxy-javelin. I’m going to bed now.